A report from the Manufacturer’s Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) recently projected overall growth in the manufacturing sector for this year, and accelerated gains in 2018.
That’s exciting news, particularly for our manufacturing-rich region, where we produce everything from biomedical supplies to ice cream cones to aerospace components.
But MAPI’s optimistic view is also likely to revive concerns that while the number of available jobs continues to rebound after a historic low in 2010, we do not have the talent pipeline in place to make sure these jobs get filled. Stats from the Bureau of Labor Statistics tend to bolster this view. In February, there were 364,000 job openings in manufacturing – but only 270,000 hires.
Why? Often the mismatch between available jobs and applicants getting hired is blamed on a “skills gap;” the jobs are coming back, but the skills needed are vastly different than they were even a decade ago, and today’s workers are lacking the know-how.
Meanwhile, labor advocates maintain the gap is caused by companies not offering enough pay and demanding higher skills without corresponding on-the-job training or apprenticeship opportunities.
Beyond that classic business vs. labor mindset, however, there’s another component – a lack of interest in manufacturing jobs by up and coming workers. Even today’s clean manufacturing companies battle negative stereotypes of dirty factory floors where the worker is merely a cog on the assembly line.
That might be the aspect of this puzzle we can all help address by giving manufacturing jobs the respect they deserve. Mike Rowe, best known as the host of the documentary series “Dirty Jobs,” runs a foundation promoting skilled trades, and believes our society gives young people a negative impression of “blue collar” work.
“These are important jobs that just haven’t been celebrated,” he said, and that might be part of why they aren’t pursued by enough candidates.
It’s fortunate that in northern Arizona there is a powerful coalition of partners who are celebrating manufacturing jobs and working to make sure that sector finds the employees it needs to thrive. In addition to our educational institutions and the employers themselves, we have resources ranging from the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce (home of the Northern Arizona Manufacturing Partnership) to STEM City to the Coconino County Career Center’s coalition for Advanced Manufacturing Sector Excellence.
Working together, our region is powerfully positioned to capitalize on the resurgence of the manufacturing sector, and convince our future workforce that there are rewarding careers to be found there.